Tired of nagging her kids all the time, Sharon Holbrook let her kitchen blackboard do the talking instead. 

Cartoon Mom Writing on Chalkboard
Credit: Josie Portillo

"We've got to go! Come on—put your dishes in the sink. We're going to be late! Where are your shoes?" I used to get bossy with my three children before school, since nothing seemed to happen unless I ordered it, often at high volume (and sometimes not even then). But one morning, totally frustrated with the chaos, I grabbed a piece of chalk and started writing a list on our kitchen blackboard:

  • Before you eat breakfast, get dressed.
  • 8:30 Finish breakfast and clear dishes.
  • 8:40 Brush teeth and hair. 8:50 Do shoes.
  • 8:55 Get in car.

I'd bought the large, rustic chalkboard because it looked beautiful, filled a blank space on the wall, and fit the style of our 95-year-old home. But I'd barely used it, except to write a menu for a party or scribble down a birthday wish. My kids spotted the new schedule as soon as they walked in the kitchen. And to my surprise, they took it seriously. We are a family that really loves books, and, apparently, the spell of the written word carries over to scrawls on a chalkboard. Even my 4-year-old, who can't read or tell time yet, wanted to hear the instructions.

It took them a few days to get the hang of it. But I found that asking, "What time is it?" or "What should you be doing now?" and pointing to the chalkboard worked miracles that my voice alone could not achieve. In a short time, we had something resembling a smooth morning routine. I couldn't believe it. Feeling confident, I tackled one of our daily after-school challenges next. I erased the fading morning schedule, then wrote this:

  • Is my room picked up?
  • Are my clean and dirty clothes where they belong?
  • Is my homework done?
  • Is my backpack in the basket and packed for tomorrow?
  • Can I help Mom with anything?

Once again, the kids paid attention. The older two read the questions aloud—then scurried around, following instructions. One day, someone drew check marks next to each question after reviewing the to-do list. My youngest child got into the spirit too: When I read her the questions, she loved checking off the homework item that her older siblings sometimes grumbled about. "I don't have any homework, Mommy!" she'd say with a wide grin.

I erased the afternoonroutine a while ago (although it might be time for a bit of a refresher, because we've slid a bit since we mastered those habits). Our latest chalk manifesto focuses on our after-dinner routine that reads:

As a family, we—

  • Clear the table.
  • Put away leftovers.
  • Wash/load dishes.
  • Wipe tables & counters.
  • Sweep the floor.

They've pretty much got this list down too. Well, we do, which is the point of the "as a family" bit there. I'm not saying everything is smooth sailing the instant I write it down. But the magic of the chalkboard is that, somehow, the instructions allow us to be kinder to one another. The reminders are objective and calm, because they sit there in plain, authoritative print. And instead of nagging the kids, I get to be the good guy. Really! At the bottom of the board, someone recently wrote, "Mom is cool." It wasn't me, I swear.

Family Fun